By Julian Whitaker MD
Do you get intense carbohydrate cravings? Are there times when you just have to have a snack or can’t resist a cookie? These cravings are not just a road to an expanding waistline – they are also a warning sign. Carbohydrate cravings are often associated with insulin resistance, which in turn is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
In individuals who have insulin resistance, the beta cells in the pancreas make plenty of insulin – the hormone that moves glucose from the blood into the cells – but the cells are unresponsive to insulin’s actions, leading to a rise in blood sugar. The pancreas responds by churning out more insulin, but it may overshoot the mark, driving blood sugar too low and creating an immediate demand for more glucose. This often manifests as carbohydrate cravings.
Unfortunately, when you heed the call, a vicious cycle is set into motion. More glucose demands more insulin, and over time, your body’s blood sugar-regulating mechanisms cannot keep up and signs of insulin resistance become more prominent.
Part of the problem is that chronically elevated levels of insulin, which are characteristic of insulin resistance, promote weight gain. That’s because insulin is the body’s primary fat-storage hormone – it ushers fat as well as glucose into the cells. So the higher your insulin level, the greater your potential weight gain.
To make matters worse, obesity throws fuel on the fire. Adipose tissue (fat), especially in the abdominal area, releases fatty acids that impair beta-cell function and insulin sensitivity, as well as immune cells that lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, increases insulin resistance and risk of diabetes.
The answer to the problem is to interrupt this insidious cycle as early as possible. Start with your diet. Sweets, potatoes, bread, pasta, and most everything made with sugar or refined grains – think white foods – have a high glycemic index and load. This means they rapidly drive up blood glucose but may be followed a couple of hours later by reactive hypoglycemia, a compensatory blood sugar dive that makes you tired, sluggish, and so hungry you feel like you could eat anything in sight.
To avoid this very common phenomenon, eat more fiber-rich vegetables and beans and include some protein with every meal. These foods are not only bulky, filling, and lower in calories, but because they cause a gradual rise in blood sugar, they’ll keep you going longer and are less apt to stimulate food cravings.
There are also some interesting supplements that can help control cravings. One of them is saffron, a bright yellow culinary spice that has been used in traditional medicine to tame inflammation and ease digestive woes. Saffron helps raise levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood, influences hunger and satiety, and helps put the brakes on food cravings – especially for carbohydrates. This makes saffron a real boon for people trying to lose weight.
Look for saffron supplements in your health food store. You can also purchase my Saffron Snack Stopper by visiting www.drwhitaker.com or by calling 800-722-8008. Aim for the study dosage of 90 mg twice a day with meals. Note: It can take up to four weeks to see results, so be patient.
Another supplement for carb cravings is 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). A direct precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP boosts levels of this important neurotransmitter and helps curb carb cravings. This supplement is particularly helpful for people with hormonal imbalances and those eating low-calorie diets, particularly low-protein diets, which may not provide enough of the amino acids required for serotonin production. The suggested dose is 50 to 100 mg, taken between meals. Do not take 5-HTP if you are on an SSRI antidepressant.
The most important tool for reversing insulin resistance (and potential diabetes) is weight loss, and reducing cravings is an important step toward that end. So stock up on fiber-rich foods, eat protein at every meal, and try supplemental saffron and 5-HTP, and you just may be able to keep carbohydrate binges at bay.
About Dr. Whitaker. Dr. Whitaker is Director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute and Editor of Health and Healing newsletter that provides important health advice for more than 500,000 people nationwide. Dr. Whitaker graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966 and received his MD in 1970 from Emory University Medical School. He completed his surgical internship at Grady Memorial Hospital in 1971, and continued at the University of California in San Francisco in orthopedic surgery. In 1974, Dr. Whitaker founded the California Orthomolecular Medical Society, along with four other physicians and the Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Linus Pauling. Dr. Whitaker is the author of several books including the best-selling Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks.